The newish Canadian military commander in Kandahar promises “massive activities” for the autumn. His predecessor promised something similar for the summer. I was young and naive then, so I bought it, more than I should. Basically we are being given the runaround and have been for some time. Not even really intentionally: it’s not that all those sunshiny briefings were mendacious, it’s just that at every point in this conflict, commanders and civilian governments have preferred to hope for the best. So the title of this post is ironic: Every quarter for nine years it’s been easy enough to find someone who thought the Afghanistan conflict was turning a corner. And of course, if you turn enough corners you eventually realize you’re going around in circles.
Meanwhile what’s actually happening is that it is all getting worse. Violent incidents of all kind in Afghanistan were up by half in August over their level in August 2009, and everyone used to think the elections would make August 2009 the worst thing anyone could imagine. So August of 2010, last month, was half again worse than what everyone thought the worst would be. The Obama White House is trying to figure out how far downward they can redefine success. I have no particular fresh insights into any of this. Probably as a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid screwing up a war for seven years before you pull your socks up. At some point, pulling up your socks is no longer much help.